Monday, January 15, 2007

Absolutely blown away

Ever since dropping down in the greater Milwaukee area from the planet Neptune (er, Arizona) I've described my new environs -- without wanting to sound patronizing -- as the perfect Practice City. It has a nice downtown, with plenty of moderately tall buildings. There are a moderately plentiful number of cultural activities like art museums and theaters. We have a nice zoo. There are several sports franchises, which include some which people around the country occasionally remember (the Brewers, the Bucks), and some which people do not (the Admirals, the Wave). There are plenty of people and suburbs, but we can get most places in less than 20 minutes. In short, it's a swell place to live, but it will never be mistaken for New York, or Los Angeles, or Paris. (It would fit well in Canada.)

And today, we had a nice, moderate snowstorm. While other parts of the country were getting socked with copious amounts of snow, or dealing with the nightmare of sheet ice, the Milwaukee area picked up somewhere between 4 and 6 inches of snow. Which, in these parts, was greeted with a resounding shrug and the sound of shoveling.

So it was an unremarkable snowstorm in most ways. Except one.

Today was a day off for the government employees among us, including me. So with a two-and-a-half-year-old who enjoys sleeping until 9:00 a.m. (I don't know what we did to deserve our good fortune, but I refuse to complain), I was looking forward to a leisurely morning consisting of sleeping until 8:30, drinking coffee with ill-advised creamer products, and watching "The Price Is Right" (just to be sure that my brain cells don't get too much exercise).

Naturally, the phone rang at 7:20. It was our next-door neighbor, who has never called us in the 11 months we've lived in our house. And for that matter, she never called us before we lived next-door, but I'd ascribe that to never having heard of us. I didn't realize she even had our phone number. But there she was, on the phone at 7:20, talking to my wife. There were no context clues as to who might be on the phone as they talked, and in my early morning fog, I lost interest until I heard the phrase, "I'll send him right over".

Our next-door neighbor is an older woman, who was the recent recipient of a second-hand snowblower. This was her first opportunity to try it out, and she was having trouble getting it started.

So, under the assumption that all guys can at least fake their way through getting a gasoline engine going, she summoned the closest likely guy to take on the challenge. (And in a neighborhood of 1920s bungalows, we're pretty darn close together.) However, as faithful readers of this feature are aware, I'm not what you would call a mechanical genius. My most recent mechanical victory was taking apart my daughter's pretend camera, purchased for exactly $1.00 at Target, and coaxing the little pretend shutter into engaging a gear, which allows her to take pretend pictures of animals through the pretend viewfinder.

Unfortunately, our next-door neighbor's snowblower was real, so I was a little concerned I might not have the right stuff for the job. I was even more concerned when I was confronted with the actual snowblower, which was almost the size of my former 1983 Subaru, and included a complex, handwritten set of instructions taped to the handle, reading as follows:
  • To start, full choke.
  • Prime engine.
  • Move throttle to fast.
  • Pull hard on starter cord.
  • When engine has started, turn choke to off.
  • If engine stalls, turn choke to 1/2.
  • Do not allow Mitch to operate this piece of machinery.
I looked, and to my surprise, I could locate all the various parts that were described in the instructions. This was tempered by my discovery that the snowblower also had five gears, plus handles to engage the traction and auger, and a wheel with which to direct the blower itself.

But, I figured I had good blog material regardless, so I followed the instructions, and moved all the various levers and yanked on the cord. Nothing. I yanked several more times, with no success. Finally, I hit on the idea of going with the direct opposite of the instructions. It fired right up, and I blasted my way down her driveway. It took no time to make one transit. This was going to be great! I'd have both our driveways cleared by 8:30 a.m.! So of course at that point it stalled, and neither starting technique wanted to work.

I took a break and got my extension cord to power the snowblower's electric starter. At least I wouldn't have a heart attack yanking on the damn starter cord. By the time I got back, my anti-instructions technique worked, and I got it going again, this time long enough to blast another path up the driveway before it stalled again. Back to another round of moving levers, pressing starters, and asking the neighbor if the hardware store had given her any suggestions after they had tuned it up.

They hadn't, and I couldn't get it started this time, so I helped shovel enough of a path down her driveway to let her get out of her garage, and started work on my own driveway as the snowblower sat smugly idle on the sidewalk.

Until, a brainstorm: I opened the gas cap. Empty. A mechanical problem even a Wisconsin novice could solve. It fired up and didn't give me any problems for the rest of the morning, not counting the time I forgot to take it out of reverse and it smashed into my knee.

Of course, it wasn't until I was driving it back up our neighbor's driveway to put it away that I noticed the brand name: Simplicity.


Anonymous said...

You neglected to say where you got the gas. Not from siphoning it out of your car's tank, I hope. . .

A reader from Nosnowyet, MD

Mitch Teich said...

Yes, good point. The previous owners of our house had been thoughtful enough to leave two mostly full containers of gasoline in the garage - mainly, I'm sure, because they couldn't figure out how to dispose of it. We couldn't either, so there they sat until one of them was pressed into service yesterday. The gas was probably pretty old, but I figured the snowblower didn't exactly need hi-test. (Besides, it wasn't my snowblower...)